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Sonny Simmons: Last Man Standing

Nic Jones By

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This is the latest in a series of albums under saxophonist Sonny Simmons' name put out by the Norwegian Jazzaway label; a further instalment in the documentation of an abundantly creative artist, but one who only relatively recently has started to receive the kind of exposure he deserves.

The setting here is a straight-ahead one and Simmons thrives in it. In the company of a rhythm section that does everything a listener might ask of it, and a whole lot more besides, Simmons puts himself across in a program consisting of his original compositions and Tadd Dameron's "Theme For Ernie," the inclusion of which indicates the leader's appreciation of a tradition goes back a whole lot further than a lot of people might imagine.

The same might be said of Simmons' grasp of the musical forms outside of the area he's most readily associated with. "Janet's Mood" is a case in point, not least because its ballad form serves as a vehicle for Simmons' acidic lyricism, happily purged of false sentiment. Pianist Anders Aarum shows here his mastery of a kind of fractured chromaticism that's entirely his own at the same time as he evokes the spirit of prime McCoy Tyner.

On the subject of chromaticism, the leader's phrasing on "Black Gardenias" has about it that compellingly relentless quality that saxophonist John Coltrane might have blazed a trail for, but which has still made for better than worthwhile music ever since. The quartet maps out that territory so effectively here that it can only be called remarkable, especially when in so doing Simmons puts out his knowledge of where the music is his coming from whilst simultaneously putting out his own thoughts. In that balance, perhaps, lies true expression.

"Melodious Theme" underscores the group's empathy in no insignificant fashion, Simmons navigating the stormy sea blown up by his accompanists with customary aplomb and bringing galvanic phrases to bear whilst seemingly straining against the limits of human expression. Having said that, there's an important quality that he shares with saxophonist Fred Anderson—he never resorts to screaming through his horn as a device for making a point, facile or otherwise. The impassioned logic that both men pour out through their music-making is a shared thing of wonder.

"Theme For Ernie" has about it that wistful air that's emblematic of much of Tadd Dameron's music. Simmons emphasises it through the simple expedient of initially singing the melody through his alto saxophone before putting in some potent variations. What one can only assume to have been ample rehearsal time makes a difference here, so cohesive is the group's thinking. If not that, then that indefinable quality that makes for compelling music was in the room at the time, and what's true in this instance is equally true of the whole program.

Track Listing: Call To Order; Ancient Ritual; La Benedicta; Janet's Mood; Black Gardenia; Melodious Theme; Theme For Ernie.

Personnel: Sonny Simmons: alto saxophone; Anders Aarum: piano; Mats Ellertsen: bass; Ole-Thomas Kolberg: drums. Torstein Lofthus: drums (2).

Title: Last Man Standing | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Jazzaway

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